KUALA LUMPUR: National singles chief coach Rashid Sidek will be keeping a close eye on independent shuttlers Zulfadli Zulkifli and Misbun Ramdan Misbun this year.
Zulfadli and Misbun are training with their professional clubs – KLRC and Nusa Mahsuri respectively – and are being groomed by their fathers.
Rashid said that he has not closed the door on independent shuttlers for major events, especially the Thomas Cup Finals.
But he stressed that these players must back-up their case for inclusion with creditable results.
There are four elite shuttlers and seven back-up players training under Rashid in the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM). The four are Lee Chong Wei, Liew Daren, Chong Wei Feng and Mohd Arif Abdul Latif.
The back-up players are Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin, Goh Soon Huat, Nur Mohd Azriyn Ayub, Loh Wei Sheng, Goh Giap Chin, Tan Kian Meng and Choong Yee Han.
Rashid believes that independent shuttlers should be given an equal chance to prove themselves.
He should know, as he was at the height of his playing career when he was training under the Nusa Mahsuri banner from 1995 to 2000. During that period, he won the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games bronze medal, reigned as the world No. 1 briefly, reached the All-England final and won several Open tournaments.
“It all depends on the players. If they’re willing to go the extra mile, and not be too dependent on others, they should be able to produce good results. The same goes to all the other aspiring club players too,” said Rashid.
“Like others, I’m also interested in how Zulfadli and Ramdan are faring as they are players with potential.
“I’ll keep an eye on them. This will also ensure that our players in the BAM will not take their places for granted.”
The 22-year-old Ramdan, who left the BAM set-up last month, had done well under the guidance of Hendrawan and even won the Pahang Open and the National Grand Prix Finals.
Zulfadli, who has been on his own right from the start, became the country’s first world junior champion in 2010.
He has been trying to make his presence felt in the senior stage for the last two years but to no avail.
Zulfadli, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Monday, is hoping for a change of fortune this year.
“This year, my goal is to win either a Grand Prix or a Grand Prix Gold event. I also want to break into the top 50 and be ranked as high as possible,” said the world No. 66 Zulfadli.
“My progress was hampered by an ankle injury last year but I’m physically better now.
“I go to the NSI (National Sports Institute) gymnasium twice a week and jog three times a week. I need to be fitter to stand a chance in the fast-paced attacking singles game.
“I’m in the reserves’ list for the All-England (March 5-10). Otherwise, my next assignment will be the Swiss Open (March 12-17).”
World No. 87 Ramdan, meanwhile, will compete in the German Open from Feb 26-March 3.